Me and Renae, as you likely know, grew up in a hard-core Mormon home. Our parents rarely missed a Sunday of church and then it would only be for illness. Twice a year they took us to "Stake Conference" which, for those of you who don't know, is where all the congregations in your "Stake" meet together for a two-hour Sunday service. That's roughly 10 congregations of roughly 200 people each. So, 2000-ish people, 90% of whom were almost complete strangers to me and my sister, sitting in the same meeting hall for 2 hours listening to sermons.
Well, we actually liked Stake Conference, (or at least I did), because:
1) It was an hour shorter than our normal weekly services.
2) Mom and Dad anticipated that we would be bored bored bored, which would equate to squirrly squirrly squirrly, so they let us bring what they called "Survival Kits" which meant drawing paper, books, toys, all sorts of things that we usually did not get to have at church.
But even without the Survival Kits we found ways to pass the time.
For one thing, 1800 new people translated to 1800 fresh victims, with the added bonus that we would not be seeing any of them again anytime soon.
(A quick aside to that: about age 7 or so, after having been to 14 semi-annual Stake Conferences, I started to recognize people at them. I remember being horribly fascinated every conference by this one baby with a grotesque looking birth defect, who always seemed to be sitting about four or so rows ahead of us. A few years later, I also started making associations like : "All the weird looking people are from Edwardsville Ward" )
One game Renae and I made up to pass the time was to pick one random member of the throng and try to bore holes into the backs of their heads with our eyes. I remember both of us staring for minutes on end before our victim even became aware of us. But once they noticed we got to watch them squirm. I also recall, after the meeting let out, and Mom and Dad were glad handing around, we would seek out the people we had stared at during church, and follow them around the halls... at a safe distance. We were weird but not always brave.
One conference we picked out this kid roughly our age (he turned out to be exactly two days younger than me) and we found a winner. He could not stand being stared at. He squirmed. He gave us funny looks. He poked his brother and told him about us. They both gave us odd looks together. They tried to ignore us. Vain Vain Vain. He turned around and began making the most hideous, hilarious faces at us. I have to hand it to him, the faces were really good. I lost my composure and broke eye contact, laughing. But as soon as I could stop laughing, I jumped right back on that horse and continued my staring.
He made it so worth our while to stare at him, that 6 months later, when the next conference rolled around, we looked specifically for him. We didn't know his name or anything about him, but we remembered him from the last conference and started in a-staring, again. Again, it was sooo worth it.
I don't know how old we were when we started this. But it went on for years. Literally. Every conference we found the same kid and stared, never knowing anything about him at all. Sometimes we shook things up by staring at his brother for a short break. It is not exaggerating to say this went on for a minimum of 2 years, and most likely 3-4. I remember being 13, and seeing him in the hall after conference talking to a pretty girl (one of the Dukes). He spotted me, stopped, pointed, leaned over to the girl and began to whisper. I ran for it.
We stopped staring at this nameless kid eventually, but only because our family moved.
We moved into the Edwardsville ward.
The one with the weird looking people.
On our first Sunday there I surveyed my new peer group, nervously hoping that I might be able to convince them that I was cool, or barring that at least get them to think I was normal. I was 14. Nervous.
I looked around studying the kids, watching them interact, thinking, evaluating, hoping, worrying.
The staring kid walked in. He sat down with his family. He talked, chatted, joked. He was obviously not a new kid here. I was doomed.
It turned out that not only was he was in our ward but he was my age. He was in my Sunday school class, and in my teacher's quorum, the quorum president in fact. He was in my new scout troop. He was born within 2 days of me for crying out loud! - I would never ever ever be able to be away from him!
I had to sit in a 10x10 class room with him that first Sunday. Dude, that sucked.
Well, he never mentioned it. Not to my face anyway. He turned out to be smart, witty, funny. He even got my bizarre sense of humour alot of the time. We wound up being friends. Chad Parker.
Last time I saw him was at Christmas time 2006. Liz and I had driven back to our home town for my brother Todd's wedding, and went to church the next day in our tuxedo's and bridesmaid dresses. We came in a tad late and I spotted Chad in the congregation, also back in town for the holidays. I gave him a goofy look that tried to say: "HEY DUDE!!!!" and "Yes, yes, this is how my family always dresses for church-what's your problem?" at the same time. We laughed.
That's good stuff.